Jesse Jackson Jr.: Obama, Civil Rights And Illinois

As his colleagues move to the White House, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Chicago, Ill., could be called on to fill the Senate seat Obama leaves behind. The son of Rev. Jesse Jackson considers Obama's victory and his own political future.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. joins us now from Chicago. Mr. Jackson, thanks so much for being with us.

Representative JESSE JACKSON JR. (Democrat, Illinois): Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Let me ask you first about the president-elect's choice for chief of staff, your congressional colleague from the northwest side, Rahm Emanuel. I bet we could both name a few people who think they've had run-ins with him. Is President-elect Obama hoping it'll be a good cop, bad cop combo?

Representative JACKSON: Well, I think what the president-elect understands is that the appointment of Congressman Emanuel as chief of staff and his transition team leaders - John Podesta, Valerie Jarrett and Pete Rouse - demonstrate a determination to aggressively implement his agenda. And while many of us have had run-ins with Rahm Emanuel, no one can deny his effectiveness. Rahm is probably solely responsible for helping vet and pick the candidates who ran for Congress that made Nancy Pelosi the speaker of the House, which means Rahm as chief of staff already has allies in the Congress who can help advance the president's agenda. And I think in the bottom - in the bottom line, that's President Obama's thinking.

SIMON: Congressman, would you like to be the next senator from Illinois?

Representative JACKSON: You know, as a national co-chair of Barack Obama's campaign, my focus was always on helping to elect him president and bringing about the change we need. And clearly, change is on the way. Now that Senator Obama has won the presidency, I would be honored and humbled to be appointed to succeed him in the U.S. Senate. In the end, Scott, the decision rests with the governor of Illinois, Governor Blagojevich. And I'm confident that he'll make an appointment in the best interests of the state as well as the nation.

SIMON: If I might linger on this a bit, Governor Blagojevich, as those of us from Illinois know, he has a popularity rating that almost makes President Bush like - look like the winner of "American Idol." He's had some real reverses in the popularity polls and some, again, run-ins, disagreements with other Illinois politicians. Have you had any conversations with him on this?

Representative JACKSON: I have had no conversations with the governor. He has indicated in a press conference the other day that he has no interest in having conversations with any of the prospective candidates. He's trying to put together a team of people who will make a judgment or a recommendation to him, and then he alone will solely make a determination. I hope that the governor looks at my record objectively. I've served in Congress for nearly 14 years. I'm the only member of Congress, Democrat or Republican, who after casting thousands of votes has only missed two.

I brought billions of dollars back to the state, $600 million to my district, specifically. If the decision is based upon record, upon tenure of service, upon consistency in service, and loyalty to Barack Obama, which he will need on day one in the United States Senate, I would hope that the governor would give my record consideration.

SIMON: Congressman, millions of people around the world saw the multitudes in Grant Park and I think were able to pick out the face of your father, tears streaming down his face, as an African-American, and in fact an African-American politician from the South Side of Chicago, was elected president and addressed the nation Tuesday night. What does this moment mean for your family, your father, for the country?

Representative JACKSON: Let me tell you what I think it meant for Reverend Jackson and Congressman John Lewis and Dorothy Height and Julian Bond, and other luminaries who made that moment possible. In their lifetime, Scott, they saw Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney, two Jews and an African-American, get killed for trying to register people to vote in Mississippi. They saw Dr. King get shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. They were right there when they were talking to him.

They saw Viola Liuzzo, a white, Italian housewife, get killed. And so for them to see, and for us to see, Barack Obama emerge as the president-elect and the 44th president of the United States, that had to be an extraordinary moment. And it truly was. I think all Americans can share in the progress that we've made as a nation.

SIMON: Congressman, it's so nice to talk to you. Thanks for making the time for us.

Representative JACKSON: Scott, It's always a pleasure.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.